NASCAR returned to racing on Sunday at the Darlington Raceway with an event held behind closed doors for everyone but essential staff.
F1 hopes to do the same in early July with an Austrian Grand Prix on an empty Red Bull Ring. If that event is successful, F1 has a provisional schedule, including follow-up events at Silverstone and Hungaroring.
So what did F1 learn from the NASCAR comeback event?
No fans, no problems
While the return of the Bundesliga highlighted the importance of the live audience for a football game, it had less impact during the NASCAR race in Darlington. It was difficult to ignore the empty stands at first, but once the race was in full swing, it really didn't matter. The sound of the engines meant that NASCAR had no voices echoing through the arena, like the stadiums that host German football games over the weekend, a shocking thing to hear for more than 90 minutes.
The key is the way the race is presented. Football fans surround the action at all points, looking at the field and, as such, almost feel part of the broadcast. In races, broadcasters can rely on smart camera work to minimize the impact, with photos on board and, in the case of NASCAR, cameras inside the car looking at the driver.
A race behind closed doors would be a perfect opportunity for F1 to experiment with new types of camera angles and ideas, like a driver talking to a commentator before or during a race. This may seem strange or unprecedented, but we are living in strange and unprecedented times.
All of this does not mean that F1 would be better in empty races, of course, but what the Bundesliga and NASCAR have proved is that something is better than nothing.
– Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) May 17, 2020
Make more use of driver content
After falling out of the lead, Jimmie Johnson posted on his social media from inside his trailer, with the roar of the engines in the background. The video was soon shown in place of an ordinary interview in front of the TV cameras.
– Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) May 17, 2020
This would be an easy victory for broadcasters during a closed-door race, with media coverage unlikely to be anything like it was before. It's easy, but it can go further.
A problem with a race, since NASCAR, is what to do when the race is between its dramatic or interesting moments. The commentators did a good job with what they had, but at times, as in any auto race, the coverage looked as if it needed an injection of energy that a long train of racing cars simply cannot inject a lap for. another. base back.
NASCAR decided something with a technique employed on several occasions, best demonstrated with three laps to go, when Kevin Harvick achieved victory. As he was on board his car, the transmission switched to a short video of Harvick's wife using a leaf blower to dry her hair and clean after a cut.
It may have been curiously timed so close to the end of the race, but the thought was good and it is surprising that NASCAR did not employ this type of thing anymore during such a long transmission.
You know things are different when your wife cuts her hair and blows it while sitting in a two-year-old chair in the garage … # 2020 pic.twitter.com/wq0E4KnBVF
– Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) April 30, 2020
During that blocking period, we saw even more F1 drivers than ever, and short, funny videos – a montage of Charles Leclerc's funniest Twitch moments, for example, or Alex Albon shouting "George!" in George Russell, driving him repeatedly in various games – would be a perfect way to fill some of the quieter moments that inevitably occur in an F1 race. Not only does it offer broadcasters a different talking point in addition to the usual close-ups of fans or VIPs in the paddock (who will not be in F1 races in the near future), but it is basically all the content ready for the oven.
This is also not just a lesson for racing behind closed doors, as it is a perfect way to show the personalities of F1 drivers to their weekly audience peak.
The new rules of the world must be respected
A peculiarity of the NASCAR race was what happened to the observers of pilots along the way. As with IndyCar, NASCAR drivers rely on a range of observers across the arena to advise them on the ideal guidelines to follow and where rival cars are in relation to theirs. At one point, the broadcast showed that this group had grouped in front of the pit lane.
NASCAR soon asked grouped observers to properly respect social detachment practices and to spread themselves again, which they did.
NASCAR had a very well thought out protocol for today's race. that's why it's so bizarre to see the supposedly so strict rules violated like that.
I understand that spreading observers harms points of view for some of them. but if I understand correctly, so does NASCAR. it is a new reality. pic.twitter.com/YvJr23I9SK
– Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) May 17, 2020
It was clearly an honest mistake and NASCAR did a good job of reacting quickly and effectively. It is important to enter these events with an open mind that things like this will inevitably happen at some point, but reacting in the right way is crucial. F1 discovered this the hard way at the Australian Grand Prix – no one objected to the race being canceled in the circumstances, but they objected to how long it took for a decision to be made.
The return events will be under considerable scrutiny from the general public, and moments like this will circulate quickly on social media. One of the main stories of the Bundesliga's return was the Hertha Berlin players hugging and kissing after one scored a goal. While this and the NASCAR observer incident may seem small, they are the exact type of negative story that can undo any goodwill a series might create from a major comeback event.
The post-screening ceremony needs to change
One thing that F1 cannot do is maintain the usual post-stroke ceremony just because that is how things have always been.
After the race, NASCAR even interviewed Harvick with the car parked on the circuit, with a microphone on the stick, and it was painfully obvious that he was standing in front of a completely empty grandstand – Harvick even mentioned this in his interview. This is not a criticism of NASCAR, as the series did a great job presenting the entire event under the circumstances, but it was difficult to escape that it did not happen in the same way that it could happen under normal circumstances.
When an audience is used to seeing something in a certain way, it can be difficult to ignore a change in key ingredient. For example, if a Grand Prix of Italy in Monza were to take place later this year without fans, three drivers or a race winner celebrating on a podium for an empty track would look horrible compared to what it normally is.
Failing to embrace the new normal of the world does not go well. For example, WWE has held regular events – including its main WrestleMania concert – in a small, empty arena, but a strange thing is how its artists still occasionally act as if they are performing in front of a live audience. Behaving like this is completely unnecessary when everyone knows that there is no audience and they know why.
During the NFL draft, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced all of his choices at his home in front of a screen full of team fans making noise. He even encouraged those fans to go in unison at one point. It was a small thing, but better than him doing it from a podium in an empty building, as if it were just a regular broadcast of a draft.
The post-race celebration is a good chance for F1 to think outside the box in terms of how it presents the winner with the trophy and how it marks the conclusion of races that will go down in history by how different they were.